In the Summer, cows are still to be seen in the meadows. However, there is a danger they will soon disappear from view altogether, because it is much easier and less expensive to the farmer to keep them in sheds. A cow in the meadow costs buckets of money because she eats for six: for every portion of grass she scoops up with her tongue, another four portions are flattened by her feet. And all the urine and feces she excretes makes the grass on that spot unsuitable for consumption by other cows.
As if the aforementioned wasn’t tough enough on the poor farmers’ purse, all that walking through the meadow costs the cow so much energy, which is not the reason the farmer is feeding her!! He expects her to use all her energy purely to produce milk. This is why it is much more lucrative to keep the cow in the shed and to let the farmer do the grazing, i.e. to cut the grass himself and then bring it to the enormous sheds, where the cows lie around. In this way cows are disappearing slowly but surely from the Dutch countryside to spend the greatest part of their productive lives in sheds where they are bored out of their minds.
The reason there are still cows in the meadows, is mainly commercial: it is an advertisement for the agrarian sector. The green, healthy image of this business sector has been badly damaged in recent years. This started at the beginning of the Eighties when the Westland market gardeners were accused by German consumers of not producing tomatoes anymore, but “wasserbomben” (water bombs). These were no longer the tasty “love apples” as they were known earlier, but snotty balls in a red skin.
After this, the hype around the mad cow disease broke out. A break out of swine flu completed the picture shortly after. The appalling images of piles of pig cadavers being hoisted into containers as if they were bales of hay, led the Dutch consumer to wonder for the first time what on earth was happening on the farms.
Unfortunately, the consumer’s memory is short and once in the supermarket, his thinking powers are steered by his purse. Unfortunately, the calamities caused by these animal diseases have not prevented meat consumption returning to its former level. A scandal involving dioxin in Belgian chickens and pigs who were full of cancer -causing substances led to little more than a slight ripple and a temporary change in eating habits.
Sewage sludge and slaughter offal is processed in animal fodder. Sewage sludge is the dirt that is filtered out of sewage in purification plants before water is allowed back into the ditches. Industrial offal is the collective name for the refuse from restaurants, hospitals or the canteens of larger companies, for example. Slaughter offal does not only consists of all that a butcher cannot offer for sale; the cadavers of the animals that died on the farms, which the farmers dumped at the side of the road, also constitute this form of offal. The consumer no longer lies awake at night at the thought that he has been presented with parts of this disgusting cocktail on his plate in the form of a steak or a chop.
During recent years, however, one thing has become very clear. Whilst the consumer is able to enjoy an attractively priced piece of meat, agriculture has undergone a metamorphosis from a natural activity to an artificial industrial branch of economic enterprise. Animals have been degraded to the status of machines which need to comply with the stringent rules of industrial production. Once a machine has been switched on, it must, if any way possible, continue producing twenty four hours a day, seven days a week and fifty two weeks a year.
Leaders of the agricultural sector found that this industrial image of agriculture should be hidden as quickly as possible from the consumer’s view. To achieve this deception, as many farmers as possible allowed their cows outdoors again. But these were mostly young cattle, whose milk production was still low and the land they were put out to had either not yet been mowed, or was due to be planted shortly with new grass. In this way, cows were “outside” again in the Summer, but only because there was nothing they could “destroy”.
The more observant of us, however, will note that, although cows are in the meadows, this is not actually an advertisement for agriculture. A normal cow had two horns on her head, but in livestock farming, these have been removed. The farmer finds this necessary because space in the sheds, as compared with space in the meadow is not that large. When too many living creatures are kept in a smaller space, this leads to irritation which can cause the inhabitants to butt each other every now and again. The absence of horns allows damage to be limited to an innocent bump on the head. Furthermore the horns can form an obstacle when the cow needs to stick her head through the railings in the stall to be able to reach her food on the other side
Instead of horns on her head, a cow now has yellow number plates in her ears. These number plates are required in the interests of fraud prevention. Whilst many farmers are against these number plates, they must comply with them because a calf or cow cannot be sold without them. The inventors of the number plates claim that the animal does not notice the plates: insertion can be compared to piercing in humans. The only difference is that calf has no choice whatsoever in the matter!
A dairy farmer is constantly looking for ways to increase the productivity of his herd which is why he regularly purchases new cows to replace the ones that have been milked out. The price of a cow is related to her milk production, but the extent of that production is not known at the time of purchase. So when a farmer is buying a cow, he doesn’t always consider the animal itself, but also its parents. If the mother was a high producer and the bull has fathered high producers, there is a good chance that their offspring will also be highly productive.
Cows are now registered by yellow number plates in their ears. Formerly, the farmer had a passport for his cows. That booklet included all information referring to the ancestors of the cow, including a sort of “passport photo” of the animal. Each cow has a pattern of black and white marks on her coat which is specific to herself. Not so very long ago, artists went into the meadows in the Springtime to make sketches of young calves. In this way, each animal received her own ‘passport photo’.
This method of registration soon appeared to be susceptible to fraud, because it was very easy to manipulate it. A less productive calf could easily be promoted to a highly productive cow on paper. Although this is somewhat more complicated in the system of the yellow number plates, it still appears to be possible. It is not the cows who are committing fraud, which is why the yellow number plates are in the wrong ears!!!!.
At the point that a cow is ready to produce milk, she acquires a chain around her neck. This is fitted with a gauge which measures how much the cow has eaten and when. From time to time, when a cow feels like eating, she ambles at her leisure to the troughs in the shed. These troughs are connected to the central feed computer. Via data in the chain around the cow’s neck, the computer checks when the cow has last eaten, and how much. Then the computer calculates – not the instinctive feeling in the cow’s stomach – if it is time to eat or not. The formula used by the computer is quite simple: how much food needs to be put into the cow in order to produce as much milk as possible at the least possible price.
And in this way the cow has become a machine that produces milk.